Wow, what a great keyboard!
Hat’s off to Logitech: They really know how to design a keyboard. Our opinion of the rest of the Revue—Logitch’s first Google TV product—isn’t nearly as lofty. The Revue’s utility in no way justifies its $300 price tag. And while Dish Network customers can buy the device at the subsidized price of $180, they’ll forever pay a $4 per month “DVR integration fee” to get full use of it.
The Revue is based on Google’s Google TV concept and is designed to let you search for and enjoy all types of media, be it on a pay TV service, the Internet, a USB hard drive, somewhere on your local network, or on your DVR (although it fully integrates only with Dish Network DVRs right now). The Revue doesn’t have a TV tuner or a hard drive, depending instead on an outboard tuner or a set-top box equipped with an HDMI output for those capabilities. We tested the Revue with a Dish Network ViP 622 high-definition DVR, with the Revue acting as a wireless Ethernet bridge connecting the DVR to our network and broadband connection (i.e., we connected the Revue to our wireless network and then hard-wired the Revue to our DVR).
Don't get fingerprints on the Revue's glossy black top, because you'll scratch it when you try to wipe them off.
You plug your tuner or set-top box into the Revue and connect the Revue’s HDMI output to your TV or A/V receiver. The Revue passes the set-top box’s video through its own HDMI output, overlaying its graphical user interface on top. If your A/V receiver isn’t equipped with HDMI, you can make a digital audio connection using an optical cable; if your TV isn’t equipped with HDMI, you'll need an adapter or a special cable. For the throng looking to cut ties to pay-TV service providers in favor of over-the-air and Internet TV, the Revue is pretty much useless.
Some of the Revue’s shortcomings are caused by third parties who fear Google TV will siphon away the inventory that’s the primary source of their advertising revenue: The ABC, CBS, and NBC television networks, for example, are blocking Google TV, so the Revue can’t stream these networks’ TV shows over the Internet. Hulu is doing the same thing. That doesn’t stop you from watching them live or recording them on your DVR to watch later, but you don’t need Google TV to do that.
You can turn your TV into a video-conferencing system by plugging Logitech's TV Cam into one of the Revue's USB ports.
But Logitech and Google have also stumbled on delivering some of the other promises they’ve made for Google TV. The Revue has several embedded applications, including Google’s Chrome browser, Netflix, Napster, Amazon Video-on-Demand, and Pandora. We’d argue that these first two apps are the most important, and we think they’re severely gimped: The browser has no address bar, for example. If you wish to navigate directly to a website, you must type the URL into a search box and then pick out the link from the results. And while the browser supports multiple windows, there are no tabs and you’re limited to four (open a fifth and the first window silently disappears).
The Revue's GUI is overlaid on top of the video signal coming into its HDMI input.
The Netflix client, meanwhile, supports HD streaming, but not 5.1-channel surround sound. What’s worse is that you can’t manage your “watch instantly” queue from here; you must navigate to your Netflix account using the browser (or a PC), instead. As for the music apps, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives; and do you really want to tie up your TV to listen to music?
This awesome keyboard is the Revue's best feature; it's a shame there isn't something like it for home-theater PCs.
On the bright side, you don’t need to open the browser to conduct a search, you just hit the search button on the keyboard and open a small search bar at the top of the screen. That’s cool. Searches include information (and media) on the Internet and on your service provider’s program guide (so you can set up programs you wish to record). If you have a Dish DVR, you can search programs you’ve already recorded, too. If you’re doing this while watching TV, you can shrink the TV window to a quarter of the screen to browse the results. You can do the same while using some of the apps. That’s pretty cool too, but the fact that you can’t move the picture-in-picture window out of the lower right corner is just stupid, because it blocks a quarter of the page you’re trying to read.
The keyboard's battery compartment does triple duty as as a riser and a handle.
As we said in our opener, the keyboard is nearly perfect. There are just two questionable design decisions: First and foremost, the keys are not backlit, rendering the device difficult to use in darkened room. Second, the keyboard does not have an infrared emitter and relies solely on RF signals to communicate with the Revue base unit. The base unit does have an IR blaster, and Logitech provides a second cabled IR blaster (and a port on the back of the base unit for another one), but this could be a problem if there’s any real distance between your TV and your A/V receiver, set-top box, and other gear.
Apart from those criticisms, we love the keyboard. It uses Logitech’s excellent Harmony universal remote technology and online code database, so it should be capable of controlling just about anything in your entertainment center. It’s thin, lightweight, and offers exactly the right amount of tactile feedback. It has dedicated buttons to power on and off the Revue, your A/V receiver, and your TV; to switch the set-top box between live TV, the program guide, and the DVR; to adjust or mute the volume; and to perform searches. It’s also outfitted with a very responsive trackpad for cursor control, a D-pad for scrolling web pages and navigating the menus on DVR, a back button, and transport buttons (play, record, pause, skip forward, and skip back). Finally, it’s the perfect size for typing on your lap, and it easily balances on the armrest of your sofa or recliner when you’re not using it. In fact, we hope Logitech creates a backlit version with an IR blaster for PCs. If you have an iPhone or an Android phone, you can also install an app that will control the Revue via your Wi-Fi network.
If you’re looking to dump pay TV, we think you’d be much better off using a home-theater PC (if you want full-blown TV-Internet integration), a cheap netbook (if you just want Internet access while you watch TV), or one of the inexpensive media streamers from the likes of ViewSonic, Western Digital, or Roku (if you just want Netflix and media streaming). In fact, we could say the same for most people who have no intention of dumping pay TV.